We all know that states have “official” animals, birds, and flowers. Until I did a little research, I didn’t know that there were also state insects, amphibians, and reptiles. For example, the state insect of New York is the ladybug, Missouri’s reptile is the three-toed box turtle, and the official amphibian of Washington is the Pacific chorus frog. However, recently, Wisconsin has taken this naming of living things a step further. America’s Dairyland, whose state dance is the polka, has been in the news lately because there is a bill before the state legislature to name a state germ.
Representative Gary Hebl has introduced a bill that would make the bacterium that helps in the production of cheese the official state microbe of Wisconsin. This supposed beloved microbe is as easy to say as it is for someone to say “she sells seashells” after downing a few six-packs of Wisconsin’s state drink. The microbe is called the Lactococcus Lactis.
Hebl feels that his bill would pay homage to Wisconsin’s cheese heritage while also promoting its image as an important location for biotechnology and microbiology research. Isn’t it nice that instead of spending all of their time on a depressing subject like unemployment, some legislators want to brighten their constituents’ day by debating what should be the state microbe?
Regina Whitemarsh, a microbiology student at the University of Wisconsin, is all for the measure. In fact, she said, “I think other states would try to think of other, cooler microbes to pick but I don’t think they could find one, so they’d be jealous.”
I had never thought about being jealous of another state because of its microbe. But now that Wisconsin’s Whitemarsh has thrown down the gauntlet, she has my attention and she should have yours. She has scoffed at us and challenged the rest of the country to find “cooler microbes” for their states. Game on.
How hard can it be to come up with a cooler microbe? Microbes are the oldest form of life on Earth. There are billions of them — just in and on our bodies. The three major types of microbes are bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Let’s throw out protozoa. It sounds too much like high school biology. Nobody wants to be the Protozoa State.
That leaves bacteria and viruses. Right off the bat, let’s ask the big question: would any state want to declare itself the Swine Flu State or the Land of H1N1? Even if they mean that their state is so strong they aren’t worried about taking on swine flu, I just don’t see it appearing on any mugs or license plates.
I think going with something well known might be the way to shut down Wisconsin. If I had Schwarzenegger’s job, I’d quickly sign up for the Common Cold State. I know the cold is made up of many viruses, but who said we have to limit ourselves to one? Objectively speaking, doesn’t California, the Common Cold State have a better ring to it than Wisconsin, the Lactococcus Lactis State?
Another way to go is with the microbe that keeps many kids out of school each year — the Streptococcus. Strep throat is no joke. People have to take it seriously, so they’d have to take seriously the state that adopted the Streptococcus. In any case, it would be an interesting battle — the one between the Lactococcus and the Streptococcus. In the spirit of fairness, may the best ococcus win.
Scientists believe there is a “good bacteria” that helps keep our breath smelling nice. Does good breath trump good cheese? Only time will tell if a state grabs the anti-bad breath bacteria for its very own.
We often hear that yogurt contains good bacteria that helps with digestion and other things. If there is to be a “Yogurt State,” it will probably be a blue state politically. I’m afraid the conservative red states will feel that yogurt is “too French.”
Like an infection in a science fiction movie, once this fight for the best microbe gets going, I don’t know that anyone will be able to stop it. It’s all pretty shocking. I never would have guessed that a nice, Midwestern state like Wisconsin would challenge the rest of the country to a new kind of germ warfare.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.